The Callahan Report: Bobby Labonte wins the Brickyard; Old and new names shine
5 August 2000By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
INDIANAPOLIS, IN: When the green flag dropped signaling the start of the seventh annual Brickyard 400, the immense crowd rose to its feet and drivers on the track mashed their accelerator pedals to the floor. The pace was fast and furious. It was a race of courage. It was a race against threatening skies. Indeed, the return of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series to the world's most famous race course didn't disappoint.
The real battle was at the front of the field. Bobby Labonte and Rusty Wallace were the ultimate warriors. Nose to tail, the two NASCAR veterans fought to the end. With 14 laps remaining, the deciding moment came. Charging down the front stretch, Labonte tapped Wallace and got by the 51 time winner. Wallace returned the Labonte tap as they were running through turn one. Labonte bobbled but saved his car from spinning. Driving in Labonte's dirty air, Wallace began to fade. The battle that had been waged for nearly a hundred laps was settled. Bobby Labonte won the 2000 Brickyard 400. He earned it.
Labonte won the race by 4.229 seconds over Wallace, taking the lion's share of the $6.5 million purse. It was a popular victory for fans and drivers alike. Labonte's older brother Terry was one of the first to congratulate his sibling upon returning to the pits. Terry Labonte missed his first race since 1979 this weekend due to two separate accidents in the past month.
"I can't think of a better day," said Bobby Labonte in victory lane. "To beat a great driver like Rusty Wallace is just awesome. He put up a great fight. At times I was better than he was."
Labonte continues to hold the 2000 Winston Cup Point lead.
"I was just a little too tight when the clouds came over," said Wallace. "I knew he was going to get me. When you get this close it is pretty hard to smile, but to come home second is a pretty good run."
A seasoned veteran won the Brickyard 400, but the race saw a mix of "old names" and "new names" running at the front of the pack Saturday.
Rusty Wallace and Bobby Labonte are already household name in racing circles. They are both strong contenders every year at Indianapolis. Jerry Nadeau, on the other hand, is about as famous as a guy in a $30 dollar seat in the grandstands. Nadeau, still looking for his first win on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit was equally as powerful as the veteran Labonte and Wallace.
Nadeau, driving the third car for the powerful Rick Hendrick Racing team, showed he is a driver that can meet and beat the best in the business. Nadeau finished the race in fourth place, behind Bill Elliott, another racing legend who needs no introduction.
Nadeau credited his success to excellent pit strategy. His crew had not done a lot to the car most of the afternoon, but on the final pit stop, the crew made a major change to his car. It was a "let's go for it" effort. Within a few laps, Nadeau had caught back up with Bill Elliott. They were just five seconds behind the leaders in third and fourth place. The two battled each other causing them to drop back further by the end of the race.
Ricky Rudd, who started the race from the pole, stayed in the top-ten all day, but fell to 21st at the end of the race. Rudd jumped to a three second lead by lap ten, before the competition settled in for the chase. They caught him. Included in the pack that chased Rudd down was rookie Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While Earnhardt is a popular and familiar name in the sport, the younger son of a seven time champion is still proving himself. Earnhardt Jr. has won three times so far this year. He had another strong finish for the season in his first Brickyard 400. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in 13 place after running in the top ten for most of the afternoon. He challenged for the lead on several occasions.
Tony Stewart, a sophomore driver with an impressive resume already, had another strong showing Saturday. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is considered Stewart's home track. The "Rushville Rocket" as he is called in the local area, finished the 2000 Brickyard 400 in fifth place.
A surprise new name in the top ten was Scott Pruett. The former open wheel driver from the CART series drove and impressive race to finish in tenth place.
Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, and Mike Skinner finished sixth through ninth respectively.
Mark Martin, who won the International Race of Champions (IROC) race at the Brickyard Friday, finished in last place Saturday. Martin was in traffic heading into turn one when his day at the 2000 Brickyard 400 ended. Martin was tapped from behind by Mike Skinner on the 15th lap. Martin hit the wall very had but was checked and released from the infield medical center.
"We were having trouble and Michael (Waltrip) was having trouble in the turns," said Martin. "He was wanting to race me pretty hard. We approached turn one and I didn't want to take a chance. I got a little push there (from Skinner). Im' ok though. It looked a lot worse than it really was."
John Andretti, brought out he second caution of the afternoon. He crashed in turn three when his right front tire blew. He hit the wall twice. Several drivers including Jarrett and Jeff Burton had to avoid Andretti's car. Andretti gave a wave to the crowd after getting out of the car very slowly.
"I dont know what the problems was," said Andretti, an Indianapolis native. "I'm not sure what caused it. I may have hit something and cut it. Im not a tire expert and we didn't have any problems up until that. We deserve a little luck and I hate to be out at Indianapolis."
With drivers young and the old, NASCAR racing showed its future will be as impressive as its past with new stars on the horizon. NASCAR fans, a dedicated breed, will continue to flock to the tracks around the country to cheer on their old favorites and to pick their new racing heroes.